The Razors

Inspired, I’m sure, by Occam’s Razor, George Mack (at X) suggests a set of rules of thumb, which he collectively calls Razors.  A sampling:

Bragging Razor – If someone brags about their success or happiness, assume it’s half what they claim. If someone downplays their success or happiness, assume it’s double what they claim.

High Agency Razor – If unsure who to work with, pick the person that has the best chances of breaking you out of a 3rd world prison.

Luck Razor – If stuck with 2 equal options, pick the one that feels like it will produce the most luck later down the line. I used this razor to go for drinks with a stranger rather than watch Netflix. In hindsight, it was the highest ROI decision I’ve ever made.

Gell-Mann Razor – Assume every media article contains a % of false information. Sandbox the article from your worldview until you’ve: • Seen primary sources • Spoken to 3 domain experts.

Taleb’s Surgeon – If presented with two equal candidates for a role, pick the one with the least amount of charisma. The uncharismatic one has got there despite their lack of charisma. The charismatic one has got there with the aid of their charisma.

RTWT.  Re the High Agency Razor, I remember that Jeff Bezos said that one of his wife-selection criteria (the first time around) was her likely ability to get him out of a third-world prison.  (“a visualization for resourcefulness,” he explained).  Compare with the decision rule that Erich Maria Remarque said (I hope jokingly) that he applied in choosing between Paulette Goddard and Marlene Dietrich.

Re Taleb’s Surgeon, I think it’s a good general criterion, but its applicability really does depend on the specific job you’re hiring for.

13 thoughts on “The Razors”

  1. This is awesome thank you! If you follow the link to this Twitter account you can access his “Lindy Library” which is also fantastic.

    Maybe I can add one to his list

    Tattoo Razor: When judging your teenage daughter’s love interest, his suitability is inversely correlated to his number of visible tattoos

  2. Physics Razor – If it doesn’t deny the law of physics, then assume it’s possible. Do not confuse society’s current lack of knowledge — with this knowledge being impossible to attain.

    E.g. The smartphone seems impossible to someone from the 1800s — but it was possible, they just had a lack of knowledge.

    I think I’ve seen references from the late 1800s to a possible pocket telephone..but it was just a voice phone, no concept of video or looking things up.

  3. With the specific history of 70 years as reference, I think “Taleb’s Surgeon” might be quantifiable, but looks should be included in the formula. The talented but charismatic candidate may be as much as twenty percent less competent. The talented and alluring candidate may only be half as capable. Of course, this is only true in the arenas of ideas of expertise. Our times have subordinated the values of mind and heart to those of the flesh.

    I pray for the “Hedy Lamarrs:” beautiful and the smartest person in the room. In my world, as in hers, she would have to work doubly hard for any distinction beyond becoming the target of teenage lust.

    Realizing this universal truth at a young age, I trained myself to ignore personal charm and good looks when assessing character and capability. At times I have yearned to be among the beautiful, but now at 70, I can stand among the upright without shame.

  4. Wife Selection Razor:
    Look at her mother – that’s likely what your wife will look like in 20-30 year’s time…

  5. As far as Mrs. Bezos 2.0, she can fly a helicopter, probably more useful vis-a-vis third world prison escapes than literary talent of whatever extent.

  6. Hans…I believe it was Schopenhauer who said that if people could see what their intended would look like X years in the future, nobody would ever get married. Probably an overstatement…but if someone used AI to do believable predictions, it would probably further reduce the marriage & fertility rates.

    Now if you could predict *personality* N years into the future…

  7. @ Mike – “Tattoo razor” had an interesting exposition by Theodore Dalrymple, the now-retired British psychiatrist who is one of my favorite authors. He worked at a prison and in an urban hospital. The nurses he worked with would be talking about new boyfriends, and he would ask them to bring him ’round yet they would say “Oh, but your wouldn’t like him. You would tell me to get rid of him.” When he asked why they would point to his judgemental views about piercings, tattoos, and dress. Later, when that BF had proved abusive, criminal, and drug-abusing, he would ask them how it had goine. Some would be shamefaced and admit that maybe he had a point, but most went blithely on, choosing a similar lad the next time.

  8. My wife is genuinely more attractive at 59 then she was when I started dating her when she was 25. I don’t think that applies generally.

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